Lift Kits and Taller Tires:
Lift kits give you more room in the fender wells to run taller tires, and can help better keep those taller tires in contact with terra firma over uneven terrain. Keeping as many tires on the ground as possible over uneven terrain improves stability and traction, gets you further down the trail, and keeps you safer while doing it. There are two basic types of lift kits, body lifts and suspension lifts, each with its own advantages, disadvantages and knock-on effects.
Taller tires reduce the risk of damage and increase your vehicle’s capability when the pavement ends. Taller tires improve ground clearance by raising the bottom of your vehicle (the undercarriage) higher off the ground, and make it easier to drive over all those rocks, stumps, downed trees, boulders and ledges you’re sure to encounter along the trail.
Even if you’re just building a Mall-Crawler or Disco Truck, which in either case is something you’ll never take off-road, everyone knows how the right lift kit and tire combination dramatically improves the looks of your ride, and increases the coolness factor exponentially.
The Domino, or Knock-On Effect:
In its simplest form, the Domino or Knock-On effect means when you change one thing, you’ll have to change possibly a number of other things to achieve your overall desired end result, and to get everything working correctly. This is certainly true when installing lifts and taller tires. The domino effect is based upon the type of lift you choose, how much lift you add, how tall the new tires are compared to those currently on your rig, and some of your existing drivetrain components, like differential gearing. A small lift and a slight increase in tire size, like going from 31s to 33s, might only necessitate adding spacers to your stock shocks, which is an easy DIY job. On the opposite end of the spectrum, installing a performance focused (flexy), 3.5” or taller suspension lift, combined with a more dramatic change in size, like going from 31s to 35s or 37s, will necessitate replacing shocks, extending brake lines, likely differential gearing changes (front and rear), and likely at least a new front driveshaft.
Every decision has its trade-offs. Let’s face it, every vehicle that rolls off an assembly line is already a compromise between bean counters, marketing, consumer wants and government regulations. In the Off-Road World, we often start with one of these mass produced, compromise vehicles and then make very specific-use, niche-market mods by adding or replacing parts, and expecting even more from our rides. Not only do we expect them to function just as safely, reliably and as comfortably as before without giving anything up, but we also expect them to work well in the dirt. Yes, we wheelers, especially those new to off-roading have very high, sometimes unrealistic expectations of our vehicles. The reality is, there are going to be some trade-offs…
Sometimes mods that improve off-road capability take something away from on-road performance. Ain’t no way around it.
In the case of lift kits and taller tires, trade-offs may include a perceived loss in engine power, more quickly wearing out and replacing parts, reduced gas mileage and increased tire / road noise. Fortunately, with some routine maintenance, and thanks to the multimillion dollar automotive aftermarket industry, much can be done to minimize, or even negate these trade-offs.
It is extremely important to note that the impact of the potential trade-offs associated with a lift kit and larger tires is largely dependent upon:
- The vehicle you start with, and the quality of the components in that vehicle, such as the engine, axles & gears.
- The overall and especially the mechanical condition of the vehicle.
- The product choices you make.
- Installing those product choices correctly, inclusive of the domino effect.
The Bottom Line for most in the off-road scene is that any trade-offs that result from installing a lift kit and taller tires are EASILY well worth it for MUCH improved looks, and performance.
Hope to see you on out on the trails!